The North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. In 1990, a group of North Carolinians interested in alternate dispute resolution discovered the state of Florida had implemented a program for court-ordered mediation. North Carolina sent a delegation to Florida to research the program. The members of the delegation liked what they observed and learned. By 1991, a statute was in place and North Carolina launched its own pilot for a mediation program. The statute (NCGS § 7A-38.1) set the framework for the Mediated Settlement Conference (MSC) program for superior court actions. The legislation charged the program with expediting settlement and making the courts both more efficient and more user friendly for the litigants. The Supreme Court of North Carolina first adopted a set of MSC Program Rules in 1991. The pilot mediation program ran for four years and was intensively studied. Given the success, the North Carolina General Assembly created the Dispute Resolution Commission in 1995 through NCGS § 7A-38.2 and implemented the program in superior courts statewide.
In March 1999, the DRC implemented a pilot Family Financial Settlement (FFS) program to provide mediation in district court family law matters. The program was a success and was implemented statewide for all equitable distribution matters in September 2000.
The Commission is tasked with regulating and certifying mediators who mediate matters through the North Carolina judicial system. Currently, the Commission operates five separate programs: the superior court mediated settlement conference program; the district court family financial program; the clerk mediation program for estates and guardianships; the district criminal court mediation program for low-level misdemeanor matters; and the farm nuisance program. Over the past few years, the superior court program has managed a consistent success rate of over 60% for cases that settle at mediation. The family financial program’s success rate is over 70% for cases that settle.
Under NCGS § 7A-38.2, the Commission includes 17 members who are appointed by various organizations across the state. The Commission seats are comprised of five judges, one clerk of superior court, two mediators certified in the superior court program, two mediators certified in the family financial program, one district attorney, two non-mediator attorneys, and three knowledgeable citizens. Each member is appointed for a three-year term and may serve two consecutive terms. Seven ex-officio members are also part of the Commission.
Over the last 25 years, the Commission has been honored to have the following individuals serve as chair of the DRC: Judge Ralph A. Walker; J. Anderson Little; Judge Sanford L. Steelman, Jr.; Judge W. David Lee; Judge Gary S. Cash; Judge William A. Webb; and the most recently appointed Chair, Judge Phyllis M. Gorham.
In celebration of the anniversary, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has issued a judicial order declaring the week of October 11-17, 2020, as Conflict Resolution Week for the Judicial Branch of the state of North Carolina. The DRC is also hosting a webinar on Conflict Resolution Day (October 15, 2020) featuring two continuing mediation courses taught by experienced certified mediators and special appearances from honored guests.